Thursday, October 24, 2013


For several years now I have been boycotting anything from Marvel Comics. This is because of what was done to Jack Kirby when he worked there. I would love to see a good journalist tackle the project of totaling the financial value of everything that he created while he was at Marvel Comics...that is, how much money it has generated for the business interests who have profited from the sweat of his brow.

My suspicion is that in modern dollars it would be the greatest total of any such crime (theft of intellectual property).

If I had the journalist skills to take on such a project, I'd do it. Alas.


Mark Gelbart said...

I wouldn't call it theft.

I'm sure when Jack Kirby signed the contract there was a clause that said anything he created while he was employed by Marvel Comics was property of Marvel comics.

James Robert Smith said...

I would call it theft. There's nothing else TO call it.

Ditko was so upset over what Goodman and Lee did to him that he packed it in and walked away from the single most iconic character of the Silver Age: Spider-Man, which he had created. Plus his Dr. Strange character. That took some guts, and shows how bad things were for the men who were creating the company as they worked.

Jack Kirby couldn't bring himself to leave along with Ditko and Wood. He was afraid of what might happen to his family if he couldn't create comics and bring home a paycheck. So he continued to work for the thieving asswipes who robbed him of everything and tossed him less than crumbs.

Mark Gelbart said...

Actually, he was paid $35,000 in 1970.

That wasn't a bad salary. In today's dollars that would probably be the equivalent of $90,000. Remember, Marvel Comics was practically bankrupt at the time of Kirby's death. They didn't start making money from movies until long after he died.

It's only theft, if you don't give someone permission to take something. Kirby signed a contract, thereby giving them permission to use his creations. The agreement has held up in court.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a 3 hour documentary on PBS about the history of comic books. They had some archival footage of Kirby, and they also interviewed Joe Simon who is still alive.

They showed Joe Simon an issue of Captain America #1 which he co-wrote with Jack Kirby. He laughed and said the dialogue and plot were an exact copy of work they did together a few years earlier for a superhero known as the Blue Bolt.

Joe Simon said that anytime a comic book writer created something that was funny or thrilling or good it was ok to copy it exactly at least 8 times.

James Robert Smith said...

Kirby kept working for thieves because he was focused on keeping a roof over his family's head and clothes on their backs and food on the table. He couldn't afford to walk away like Ditko and Wood did when they ran into the same problems with the theft of intellectual property. Single men can take chances a married man cannot.

You can quibble about $35K in 1970 being worth billions of dollars today all you want. They stole it all from Kirby. He changed that company's fortunes almost by himself, and they repaid him by stealing his work and ensuring that he never got his fair share of its value.

Hell...I think it was 1961 when Kirby produced something 1500 pages of completely written and penciled pages. He did it to keep his family safe and secure. That was paramount to him. It was only later that he realized what had been stolen from him by liars and cheats and thieves who DID understand the value of what they had stolen. Because that's what corporate thieves do. They understand the value of the intellectual property that they've stolen.

I used to wonder why Goodman tried to restore the superhero genre in 1954 when everyone else was getting OUT of the superhero biz. It was because television producers were interested in Sub-Mariner, created/written/drawn by Bill Everette. So he revived Capt. America/Human Torch/Sub-Mariner to feed to the TV folk. And he kept Sub-Mariner going for months after facing the fact that kids didn't want those comics...all because of the big payoff that was coming by optioning Sub-Mariner to TV producers. He was a very talented--this was a man who understood the art of stealing such property from true creative people.

Mark Gelbart said...

I agree that Kirby got the short end of the stick but calling it theft is an exaggeration.

Comic book publishers do take risk when they publish a comic book creator's work. There's no guarantee that they will make money on a new project. It's not a crime when they do make money.

Everything Goodman and Lee did was a perfectly legal business arrangement. No court ruling has ever considered it theft.

Sure, they should have paid Kirby a little more, but there wasn't that much money floating around while Kirby was still alive. Now that there is a lot of money from the movies, Kirby is dead, so it doesn't matter.